Over the last few months here at Ultra168 we have been following closely the performances by the worlds best athletes at a number of the iconic Ultras and Trail races around the globe. One theme has started to emerge in 2011 (keeping an excited Dan glued to the interwebz and sleepless) and that has been the performances of the Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the last few days we have seen another US signature ultra, the HR100 title go to the French and following up the flying Catalan’s performances at WS100 we cannot wait to see what the UTMB will bring.
A number of these successful athletes run for the Salomon International Trail Team. Do they have a secret in picking the right athletes? Do they do anything different in the way they prepare their athletes or is it just down to what the individual does in getting themselves ready to race. In a sport where the individual is so reliant on themselves for such a long time out on the course and with such a mental component creeping in as the distance rises, can a support structure really influence performance?
We saw the hype surrounding some of the new gear Kilian was trialling during the WS100 including his new hand/glove/collapsible water bottle thingy’s. Did this give him the edge? Did it make him run faster? What we do know is that running is more than the physical, its also a confidence game, and trusting in your gear, your crew, your pacer etc all makes for a better performance.
In the lead up to this years Kilian’s Classik, Salomon brought together a number of its international athletes and key Salomon staff to the French Pyrenees to review and seek feedback on how they and their gear has been performing at past races and also give them a chance to discuss their needs at upcoming races. I was given a privileged opportunity to see this process in operation.
The videos give a quick snapshot of how they operate, but what is clear from their set up is that they have taken learnings from other sports and running disciplines and used the best of all the parts in a unique way. Aussie athlete Stu Gibson provided me with a few good insights. As someone who has international rep honours at track, road and trail but also in mountain biking Stu has been around the development of the both sports over the last decade.
Stu highlighted to me the similarities to the MTB and the skiing industry to the way Salomon go about their business. The opportunities for the athletes to brief the R&D teams, then take the prototypes straight out on the trails of the Pyrenees, Alps, Rockies and British Fells, then feedback directly to the team, share with other athletes and to continue the evolutionary development circle all together is an invaluable aspect of a true team structure. The sum of the parts are greater than the individual.
Clearly, this is a defined strategy set out by Salomon from the get go, and I liken it to Formula 1 motorsport albeit without the mega dollars,superyachts and carbon footprint. The gear you and I will wear on our weekend bash through the bush has filtered down from the elites trial and error at weeks like this and tested at the worlds toughest races. The same comparisons from F1 where the ABS technology filters down to to your family wagon to make it safer, I believe is a good parallel.
I can only guess at what the dollar investment this may mean to Salomon and its parent company, but I for one have a much better insight into why the elites continue to perform at the highest levels and we continue to see times come down and performances improve regardless of the course and weather conditions.
You may ask if this is good for a sport that prides itself on not being overtly commercial compared to our road running and IronMan brethren, a sport that allows you to meet up for a FatAss run with no extortionate entry fees or $10000 bike and wetsuit in tow. Only time will tell, but one thing is clear, Salomon through their love for the mountains and their desire to share this feeling with the masses have gone a long way in taking the sport to a wider audience to great effect. More people running more often cant be a bad thing.